Diagnosis: Right from the Start

  • Willie Underwood III, MD, MPH, MSci works closely with you and your primary care physician during your care at Roswell Park.

Getting the right diagnosis means getting the right treatment and, ultimately, having better outcomes.

Standard Diagnostic Procedures

If kidney cancer is suspected, your doctor may perform one or more of the following procedures:

  • Physical exam: The doctor checks general signs of health and tests for fever and high blood pressure. The doctor also feels the abdomen and side for tumors.
  • Urine tests: Urine is checked for blood and other signs of disease.
  • Blood tests: The lab checks the blood to see how well the kidneys are working. The lab may check the level of several substances, such as creatinine. A high level of creatinine may mean the kidneys are not doing their job.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of the kidneys and any tumors present. The patient may receive an injection of dye so the kidneys show up clearly.
  • MRI: An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is an imaging machine that uses a large magnet, a computer, and radio waves to look inside the body and evaluate the kidneys.
  • Ultrasound: The ultrasound device uses sound waves that bounce off the kidneys. A computer uses the echoes to create a picture called a sonogram, which will reveal a solid tumor or cyst if present.
  • Biopsy: In some cases, the doctor may do a biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of tissue to look for cancer cells. The doctor inserts a thin needle through the skin into the kidney to remove a small amount of tissue. The doctor may use ultrasound or x-rays to guide the needle. Then, a pathologist will examine the tissue to look for cancer cells.
  • Surgery: In most cases, based on the results of the CT scan, ultrasound and x-rays, the doctor has enough information to recommend surgery to remove part or all of the kidney. A pathologist then makes the final diagnosis by examining the tissue under a microscope.